The IABC Trends Watch Task Force report, published in March 2021, highlighted the renewed importance of communicators as champions for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) amidst key international developments, including the Black Lives Matter movement and the representation of the LGBTQ+ community. The report garnered positive feedback and a decision was taken to delve further in the topic by engaging IABC members to learn their views and experiences of promoting DEI in their organizations.
In April 2021, a survey was shared with the IABC community to encourage responses from communication professionals. Forty-five responses were received from members across IABC regions.
The quantitative responses illustrated that many communications professionals were promoting DEI within their organization and enjoyed the support from senior leadership, but did not have a special budget to execute initiatives.
- 60% agreed that DEI is among the top 5 priorities within their organizations
- 50% say their senior leadership team has asked the communication team to champion/promote DEI
- 83% do not receive a special budget to champion/promote DEI initiatives
- 52% of respondents are not sure if their efforts in DEI have resulted in a more inclusive culture; 43% believe their efforts have resulted in a more inclusive culture
- Tools most commonly used to communicate and educate about DEI:
- Leadership messages (78%)
- Internal events (71%)
- Company philosophies (59%)
- Intranet features (51%)
Respondents were also given the opportunity to share the No. 1 challenge facing DEI in their organization. The comments revealed the following:
- There is a lack of clarity around DEI metrics. Communicators require clarity on how to measure inclusion to ensure efforts are truly improving culture for minority groups. Consider the question, should there be minimum global standards for DEI?
- For some communicators, DEI initiatives feel like optics or tactics rather than inspiring, meaningful change. Comments included: “Lots of words, little action,” and “Feels aspirational vs. meaningful.”
- There is uncertainty about what role communicators should play in addressing systemic racism and discriminatory hiring practices.
- There is a need for collaboration. Some communicators indicate it has been challenging to include “diverse voices in the planning of DEI”.
- There is a lack of awareness. One respondent disagreed that discrimination exists at all.
We Wrote This … Or Did We?
Want more thought leadership from the Trends Watch Task Force? Examine artificial intelligence and the Internet of Behaviors in relation to communications.
Considerations and the Way Forward
The survey brought to the fore questions about organizational and industry views regarding the importance of DEI. Serious decisions should be made about the value of DEI to the communications profession and steps should be taken to clarify and embed its principles in training and professional development programs. Here are a few considerations to begin with:
- Empower communicators with the business benefits of inclusion: 83% of communicators said they do not get a special budget to carry out DEI initiatives. Could the IABC community educate communicators on the positive impact of a diverse and inclusive culture on employee engagement, project management success and business prosperity? This evidence does exist. Empowering communicators with this information might help them lobby more effectively for funds and other resources needed to carry out meaningful change-management initiatives.
- Establish global standards for DEI and communication: Can the IABC community play a role in establishing or validating global standards surrounding communication and inclusion practices? The communications profession has a unique opportunity to define an interdisciplinary approach to diversity communications through its strategies, metrics and best practices. While the majority of respondents do not currently possess a special budget for DEI, there have been a spate of corporate announcements regarding C-suite roles focused on diversity and inclusion. If the profession does not take the opportunity to define diversity communications, it may be at risk of being defined by other disciplines while the work resides in communication teams. It is also worth noting that the definition and focus of diversity and inclusion can vary greatly based on geography, which should be taken into consideration when working toward such standards. For example, racial diversity may be a focal point in the United States but in Iceland, conversations tend to center around gender. In Germany, Turkish and Jewish representation are more sensitive issues than that of African or South Asian populations. In the Middle East, with a few exceptions, conversations around the LGBTQIA community are far less common than in other parts of the world. This is not to say that diversity should not encompass these many attributes, but that focal points may shift depending on where you are in the world.
- Share case studies for real world examples: Only 50% of communicators polled were tasked with championing/promoting DEI by senior leadership, despite it being a top 5 business priority for most organizations. Would it be helpful to collect and share some strong case studies from Gold Quill to showcase best practices?
- Conduct a comprehensive study: These findings shed a light on DEI within communications and provide an opportunity to begin meaningful conversations and reflection. However, the low response rate of the survey does not provide a comprehensive representation of DEI for the communication profession. Therefore, an opportunity exists to conduct a comprehensive study to assess and provide fulsome solutions about the way forward.
The conversation doesn’t end here. If you are interested in sharing how you or your organization is making progress within the realm of DEI, challenges you’ve faced or considerations for the future, reach out to the Catalyst editors at email@example.com
Shaniek Parks, Brigitte Fontaine and Celine Brassard
Shaniek Parks, Brigitte Fontaine and Celine Brassard are members of the IABC Trends Watch Task Force.